21.05.2018 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

Neo-Buddhism is the collective name for various modernist and reformist movements in Buddhism, which include elements of Buddhist doctrine and practice, but do not belong to any of the older religious traditions.

Neo-Buddhism is considered one of the new religious movements, so it is barely associated with traditional Buddhist schools and trends. It is found in Japan, the United States and Europe.

All movements of Neo-Buddhism are united by a more or less deep secularization and strengthening of the social interpretation of Buddhist doctrine and the desire to present it as a secular, scientific and atheistic doctrine.



Neo-Buddhism arose against the background of intensive expansion to the West of some Buddhist schools in the 1950s and 60s.

Theravada is the oldest school of Buddhism, adhering to conservative views.

  • Zen is the doctrine of enlightenment and in the school of East Asian Buddhism, mystical contemplation.
  • Vajrayana is a tantric movement formed within Mahayana, which is distinguished by the thought that “samsara and nirvana are one”.
  • Pure Land Buddhism is a school of Mahayana Buddhism and a branch of Far Eastern Buddhism based on the general Mahayana cult of Buddha Amitabha.
  • The Nichiren school is one of the leading Japanese movements in Buddhism, characterized by a special soteriological doctrine.

As a result of the formation of Neo-Buddhism, new communities have been formed, led by Ole Nydahl, Sogyal Rinpoche, Thit Nhat Hanh, Seungsahn and a considerable number of other Western and Eastern teachers. Neo-Buddhism also includes the Japanese social and religious movement of Soka Gakkai and some other modern Japanese Buddhist schools and movements.

Fwbo teachings

In 1967, the Society of Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) was founded in the UK. It’s a religious movement and an international community of Buddhists, within which more than sixty centers have been opened in five continents.

At the head of the Order is a European who has devoted his life to Buddhism — Sangharakshita (his secular name is Dennis Philip Edward Lingwood). He had been a monk and is now known as a writer and active social activist. As a child, he began to actively study Eastern culture and philosophy, which led him to realize that he was a Buddhist.

Fwbo teachings

During World War II, Dennis Lingwood ended up in India, where he chose the path of a Buddhist monk. He lived in India for twenty years and studied with leading mentors, then he began to pass on his knowledge and experience, and eventually decided to become a writer. On his return to England, he became one of the key persons to spread Buddhism in the West.

Meditation is the main practice of the members of the Order. There are four phases of meditation here:

  • mindfulness of breathing (Anapanasati), which consists in the conscious contemplation of this vital process;
  • the practice of developing kindness (metta Bhavan);
  • spiritual death;
  • the spiritual rebirth necessary for the understanding of death, the limited ego (“Self”) and an individual’s awareness of his/her spiritual renewal.

In the centers, they study scripture, practice yoga and observe other methods of self-improvement. The Order organizes social events in the form of various festivals (including arts and poetry), interactive meditation courses, written seminars and pilgrimages to Buddhist shrines in India.

In the spring of 2010, the Society of Friends of the Western Buddhist Order and the Western Buddhist Order became known as the Triratna (“Three Jewels”) of the Buddhist Order. This made it possible to unite followers around the world under one name.

Neo-buddhism and buddhism. Comparison

Some researchers define Neo-Buddhism as “Neophyte Buddhism” and distinguish it from traditional Buddhism based on “birth” (the emergence in the countries of the traditional spread of Buddhism). Neophytes are characterized by:

  • conscious acceptance of Buddhist teachings
  • a strong aspiration to understand the dharma (the universal law of being)
  • free interpretation of texts and traditions

In practice, Neophytes focus on meditation and chanting mantras and observing the rules of their practice. They do not worship buddha images and do not perform monastic duties properly.

Neo-Buddhist movements often use meditative practices as a means of psychotherapy to free an individual from emotional problems. They are also characterized by a “missionary orientation” including great involvement in environmental and social processes and tolerance for non-Buddhist religious views. Neo-Buddhists have a less rigid organization of groups and communities.

Adherents of Neo-Buddhism are often focused on the theoretical training of their followers and developing meditative practices. In contrast, in Buddhism, only a certain group of monks is engaged in meditation, and the laity is devoted  to performing rituals and charity to “improve karma.” Rituals for Neo-Buddhists do not play an extensive role, however they are not completely excluded from the practice of them.

Sometimes traditional Buddhism and Neo-Buddhism are not easy to distinguish. For example, the Ole Nydahl groups, which are essentially Neo-Buddhist formations, have a formal initiation into the practice and the blessing of bringing Dharma (the teachings of Buddhism) to the West. Such spiritual instructions are received by group leaders from lamas (mentors) who adhere to classical Buddhism.

Some Neo-Buddhism movements are characterized by religious syncretism — the mixing of two or more religious traditions into a new belief system (for example, connections with the New Age movement).

Neo-buddhism in modern russia

Buddhism began to penetrate Russia at the beginning of the 17th century, spreading from Mongolia to the northern part of the country and on to the Buryat settlements of Transbaikal. The religion continued to exist in a classical form, along with other beliefs, until the second half of the 20th century. In the sixties and seventies a significant place in Russia was occupied by Zen Buddhism, which attracted the attention of the intelligentsia, university circles and people studying Eastern culture and languages.

After the collapse of the USSR, the number of adherents of this movement in Russia increased significantly. In St. Petersburg, by the end of 1992, four Buddhist communities were officially registered.

Neo-Buddhist movements are characterized by a pronounced approach to faith as a means of obtaining earthly goods and getting rid of emotional problems. The activities of the followers are more focused on working with young people and participating in social and political life. In the cult of Neo-Buddhism, a monotheistic tendency can be observed.